Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/4/17)

Our May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously.

Our goal is $500.

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (6/1/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $443 toward our goal of $500.

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/25/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $393 toward our goal of $500.

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/18/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $365 toward our goal of $500.

Live by the Spirit

Pastor Rick MixonA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Text: Galatians 5:13-25 (The Message)

This is really a post-Pentecost sermon, so I apologize to all of you who came expecting to hear the familiar story of the rush of wind, tongues of flame, and speaking in strange languages.  I am assuming that you are familiar enough with this story to move on today. Hopefully we have alluded to the mystery and power of Pentecost in sufficient measure throughout the service to evoke a sense of what it was all about.

My concern this season has been more toward what happens after all the furor has died down, after the excitement of that first Pentecost waned, after the crowds wandered away, after the great experiment in communal living had fallen prey to harsh reality. What then? In a way, it is a concern for today. What about us, 2000 years later? How do we encounter the Living Presence? What meaning does Pentecost have for us? Can we still live by the Spirit?

In focusing this month on peace and going off-lectionary, I looked at a number of biblical texts that refer to peace, suggested by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz, and chose the ones we are using in worship. One of my favorites is Psalm 85. In her paraphrase, Nan Merrill writes in hope of a time when “righteousness and peace will embrace one another.” In the language of more familiar versions, “righteousness and peace will kiss.” This is a really lovely image – righteousness and peace kissing. But what does this vision tell us of the things that make for peace?

It seems to me that it says that there is no peace without righteousness, that this is a relationship born of the Spirit and blessed by God. We’ve spent some time considering peace the past couple of weeks. Drawing on our definition of shalom, we have come to understand it as peace with connotations of harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, tranquility, welfare, and well-being. But what of righteousness? It’s kind of an old-fashioned word, not one we use very often. What do you think of when you hear the word righteousness?

Truthfully, I wrestle with the word’s implications of judgment. It is so strongly connected to notions of right and wrong. And then there is its unfortunate link to self. Who likes the self-righteous? Aren’t these the very folk with whom Jesus was in conflict? The people who were so certain that they knew what was right and had a corner on it? Maybe that’s why we don’t use the term much these days. It carries too much baggage.

But here’s the problem – scripture uses this word a lot. There must be more to it. When the Ancient Word speaks of peace and righteousness embracing and kissing, don’t we need to pay attention? Some of you may have noticed that from time to time I have tried to reframe righteousness as right living. I don’t know if this is helpful for you, but it lets me come at the concept from a more contemporary perspective. It helps me think about what scripture is trying to teach me. It allows me to think about how I live my life without getting bogged down with unhelpful rules and expectations.

Which brings us to today’s text, another of those gifts from the BPFNA resource. Although Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message doesn’t mention it specifically, more familiar translations affirm that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit. In studying this passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it seemed to me that there is an explication here of the relationship between right living and peace. Here we see the kiss of righteousness and peace on the big screen, in high definition.

“For freedom,” Paul writes, “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Now there’s a gift for you. Who of us has not longed for freedom at some time or another – freedom from rules and regulations, freedom from expectations and obligations, freedom from relationships, family, work, freedom to go where I please and do what I when I please. Who is Peterson trying to kid when he writes, “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.” Is it clear to you? It’s not to me. Freedom comes tagged with responsibility and rubs up against all sorts of limitations. And, sure enough, in the very next line he writes, “Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.” Well, what sort of freedom is that? You mean to say that freedom is tied up with righteousness, that true freedom has some relationship to right living.

Well, here’s the real rub, “…use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” Maybe it didn’t really connect when I said that freedom is a gift. Gift implies a giver and here’s the reminder that all we have is gift from God, that true freedom is rooted and grounded in love, that real freedom grows as we serve one another and all creation. Yes, we’re free to throw it all away but we destroy ourselves and others and maybe the whole creation in the process.

On the other hand, we are free to live by Spirit and, challenging as that may be, experience the abundance of what God holds for us in the Beloved Community. Now I imagine some of you are wondering about these lists that Paul has produced. They sound a lot like those old judgmental rules and regulations. Again, in traditional translations, you get the old Pauline battle between “Spirit and the flesh.” We talked about this some in Bible study on Tuesday. We’ve tended to personalize and sexualize these challenges because that word “flesh” reeks of bodily decay. So here, I think The Message is helpful in avoiding that loaded term in favor of “selfishness” or “self-interest,” or, as the New Revised Standard Version puts it, “self-indulgence.” Sometimes I think of it in term of “self-absorption.” The mantras are: “It’s all about me” and “I want what I want when I want it.”

As people of faith, as followers of the Jesus’ Way, it’s pretty difficult to adopt this as our life-style. Steadfast love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace, are the mantras of those who choose to live by the Spirit. Yes, we are free to turn our backs on this that we are called to and promised. Yes, we can walk a different direction, but there is no way it will lead to the Beloved Community. “…repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” Ouch, does any of this make sense? If not, “I could go on.”

The point is not to use these to shore up threats of hell. The point is to bring a loving and compassionate, if you will, a grace-filled word that none of these leads to true freedom, none bring real peace in our lives or in the world, none will usher in God’s Beloved Community laid out from the very foundation of the world. You can’t really live by the Spirit and practice such self-indulgence. Real freedom is to be let loose from any of these burdens and, in the end, they are burdens.

“But what happens when we live God’s way?” Here’s the good news. The fruit of the Spirit, which, by the way, is gift as much as it is anything we accomplish on our own, lives in “things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity…a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Or, put more simply, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Maybe it’s my aging body and spirit that draws me to these qualities. I want to say yes to them, not just for my benefit, but for yours and that of the whole creation.

“For freedom Christ has set us free.” As people of faith, we have freely chosen to follow the Jesus’ Way. So, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.” Sounds a little like right living. Live by the Spirit. It can only bring us closer to shalom, to the peace and well-being of God’s Beloved Community – home. Amen.

Mission Offering for May: Baptist Peace Fellowship (5/11/16)

Blessed are the PeacemakersOur May Special Mission Offering is for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) web site has this to say about the organization: “What comes to mind when you hear the word Baptist? Do you think peacemaker? How about folks who care for the poor, resist racial discrimination, speak out about worldwide injustices and care for the environment? If that is not your vision of Baptist, then we invite you to stay a while, find out more about us and learn what the word Baptist means around here. The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America works to gather, equip and mobilize Baptists to build a culture of peace rooted in justice.

For further information, see the website at bpfna.org. FBCPA is a charter member congregation of BPFNA. We urge to you give generously. To date we have received $345 toward our goal of $500.

Mothers for Peace and Justice

Mary and ElizabethA sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Text: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Luke 1:36-55 (The Message)

“M” is for the million things she gave me
“O” means only that she’s growing old
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me
“H” is for her heart of purest gold
“E” is for her eyes with love-light shining
“R” means right and right she’ll always be
Put them all together they spell MOTHER,
a word that means the world to me.

This song, written in 1912 by Howard Johnson and Theodore Morse, represents the sort of sentimentality that has come to define Mother’s Day in this country. More than anything Mother’s Day is a red letter day for greeting card, candy, and flower businesses. It is a commercial blessing for those who make a living off those who celebrate some silly notions of what mothering is all about. It is decidedly not a high holy day on the Christian calendar. Yet I suppose it is being celebrated all around the land to day. I can’t remember ever having built a worship service around it before, though I know I am on shaky ground with some if I don’t at least acknowledge it.

I remember as a child that there were always carnations in church on Mother’s Day – red if your mother was alive, and white if she had died. Often there was recognition, with corsages, for highlighted mothers – the oldest, the newest, the one with the most children, Mother of the Year. This is the first time my carnation would be white. That is a strange, disconcerting, somewhat painful realization. I am a now a motherless child.

In an earlier time, when we would celebrate church as family, with God as Father, feminists were wont to ask how you could have a family without a mother. Then my friend Elizabeth and others began to point out that everyone in the room had not experienced happy family life; that fathers and mothers were sometimes neglectful or abusive; that everyone wasn’t heterosexually married; and everyone did not or could not have children. It’s not that a kind of idealized image of family – mother, father, siblings – is never a meaningful way to look at the faith community; we just need to be careful that is not the only, or even the defining, image we employ. If the church is going to include all of us, then there is more diversity to be considered than the nuclear family or conventional wisdom provides.

Alright, let’s back up for a minute to look at what brought on this train of thought. This is Peace Month at First Baptist and our theme is “Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” Several years ago, through material put out by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America/Bautistas por la Paz, I was surprised to discover that Mother’s Day in this country has not always been a sentimental holiday. It actually has its origins in the annals of the anti-war movement. Julia Ward Howe, who penned the lyrics for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 in which she declared, “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” Hers was a fierce and passionate call for peace and justice.

Mother’s Day did not really catch on as a holiday until the early 20th century when Anna Jarvis, inspired by her own mother’s work for peace, justice and the well-being of families before, during, and after the Civil War, organized a movement to establish a national holiday. Though she was ultimately successful – Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914 – she lived to regret her success as the holiday was quickly sentimentalized and commercialized. She spent the rest of her life and fortune fighting the co-opting of her noble intention to celebrate what was good and right about mothering.

While singling mothers out for sentimental attention is not particularly praiseworthy, there is something significant in lifting up those mothers who have worked for peace and justice, including those who have loved and nurtured us, teaching us the ways of righteousness. Several years ago I did preach a sermon entitled, “The Reproduction of Mothering.” I acknowledged that the title was “borrowed” from the work of an important feminist, humanist, psychoanalytic sociologist, Nancy Chodorow, who taught for many years at UC Berkeley. Drawing from Freud and his followers, Chodorow argues that good mothering is essential to healthy human being. Children need to be loved, cared for, nurtured if they are to thrive. However, she also says that the mothering role can be provided by individuals other than the birth mother, including men. Living, loving relationships are more important to well-being than actual gender or bloodlines.

In a commentary on Mother’s Day, Anne Lamott writes, “…my main gripe about Mother’s Day is that it feels incomplete and imprecise. The main thing that ever helped mothers was other people mothering them; a chain of mothering that keeps the whole shebang afloat. I am the woman I grew to be partly in spite of my mother, and partly because of the extraordinary love of her best friends, and my own best friends’ mothers, and from surrogates, many of whom were not women at all but gay men.”

There is something about “extraordinary love” that gives life. We all need it to survive and thrive. The problem is that we live in a world in which there is too little love expressed and shared. Too many children live in fear, in poverty, in hunger, in sickness. Too many mothers – and fathers – experience those same things and cannot provide adequately for their children. It isn’t that they don’t care or don’t try to love, nurture, and protect their children. And it isn’t that some children don’t succeed mightily, in spite of enduring the most improbable and horrifying circumstances. But wouldn’t life be better for us all if justice and peace prevailed, if we were equally invested in the welfare of all the world’s peoples. Every mother’s child is also a child of God. Each child is as important as the next.

Following her foremother, Hannah, Mary lifts a hymn to heaven in recognition of and praise for a God of peace and justice.

God bared an arm, showing strength,
scattering the bluffing braggarts.
God knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulling victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.

“Listen closely,” Karoline Lewis urges. “Anything sound familiar in Mary’s Magnificat? Notice anything similar between Mary’s song and Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19)? Like, everything? Maybe it’s true that you can learn something from your mother.” Every Advent season we sing about “Dreaming Mary”:

“And did she dream about a son?
We only know God’s will was done
in the son of dreaming Mary.
Then she prayed rejoicing in her savior.
She taught him justice for the poor.
She taught that kings oppress no more
when she taught, that dreaming Mary.”

Lewis continues her reflection on the Magnificat. “Jesus’ understanding of his purpose for his ministry restates his mother’s understanding of God’s working in her life. Jesus senses the essence of his ministry because he learned it from Mary. Jesus isn’t just making stuff up. He’s giving voice to how he grew up. He’s articulating what he’s been taught. He’s known this from the beginning. It’s what his mother preached. It’s what his mother lived. It’s what his mother taught him to be. It’s how his mother interpreted Scripture. It’s what his mother shared about who she knew God to be. It’s what his life of faith embodied. Jesus can witness to the God he knows because he heard his mother give witness to the God she knew” (Karoline Lewis, “A Merciful Advent, December 13, 2015,” workingpreacher.org).

So let’s celebrate the Love that makes a difference in the world. Let’s celebrate mothers and fathers and everyone who teaches right living, who works for peace and justice, who is dedicated to creating equal opportunity for every child. Let us sing with Hannah and Mary songs that praise the God of shalom, the God of mercy and compassion, of peace and justice and well-being for all, the God who brought everything into being and called it good, the God who turns the world right side up. Let’s proclaim that we will teach “charity, mercy and patience,” that “We, the women [and men] of [this] one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons [and daughters] to be trained to injure theirs.” Let us light candles and pray together for peace, recognizing that God “did not create us to kill each other nor to live in fear, anger or hatred.” Let our kitchens put forth “recipes of mercy and forgiveness, of compassion and redemption.” Let us resolve to “beat [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks; [to] not lift up sword against nation, [nor]…learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:3-5). I think this would be a day to delight any mother’s heart and one well worth celebrating. Amen.